Wednesday, April 9, 2008

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Survival of the fittest is a central tenet of the theory of evolution. It is based on the verifiable observation that every living being is trying to survive; that some do survive, at least until the time they are able to replicate and leave their progeny behind to carry on; and some do not. Those life forms that are not able to survive until replication eventually disappear and are replaced by other forms that are better adapted and more able to survive.

Well, no one could have any problem with this. As I said, all this is verifiable. In fact, the more we study and the more that is revealed through our increasingly sophisticated equipment, the more we see that not only each life form, but within each life form there are thousands and millions and billions, and in the case of advanced life forms, trillions and quadrillions, of coordinated and synchronized simultaneous biological processes whose sole purpose is the survival of the life form that they serve.


Here, however, is the sixty-four dollar question that is never posed and never examined and that sits right at the center of this whole idea. When we say that all life forms are trying to survive, WHO is it that is actually trying? Now in the case of every living being there seems to be at least two 'who's'. The first who is the who that provided us, and by us I mean all of us, from the microbe all the way up to the human being, with this amazing equipment that allows us not only to survive but to satisfy our desires. Perhaps you think that there is no such who, that this bafflingly complex and astoundingly precise equipment that operates in a way that we humans are just beginning to understand(and that just barely) just arrived here by some sort of a fortuitous accident. Okay, I won't push that point for now. Let's just focus on the present time and on determining who or what it is that is trying to survive.


Let's consider for a moment that non-living things are not trying to survive. Atoms combine making molecules and molecules separate into atoms without any concern what so ever about their survival. Whether an H2O molecule winds up in a liquid state as water, a solid state as ice, or a gaseous state as water vapor, may be of concern to the commuters who have to negotiate through these molecules as they try to get to work, but it is certainly of no concern, what so ever, to the water molecules themselves.


Richard Dawkins an evolutionist who is more myopic than he is intelligent, calls life forms 'survival machines'. What are machines? They are materials assembled and designed to gather a force and use it for a purpose. In human made machines the purpose is, of course, not in the molecules of the machine, but in the conscious creator of the machine who wanted to build something to accomplish a certain goal. It is also in the conscious user of the machine who has the purpose of wanting to accomplish something that the machine will help her accomplish. But the machine itself has no purpose within it, within the molecules of the machine. The creator and the user of the machine may have an interest in its survival and maintain and repair it, but the machine itself has no concern as to whether it is functional or non-functional, in mint condition or rusted out.


Now what about these living 'survival machines' that Dawkins talks about? Is it the machine, itself, our bodies, that want us to survive (and by our bodies I include the proteins in our brains and the nucleic acids of our genes)? Absolutely not. Our bodies are made up of the same atoms and molecules as non-living matter. Although protein molecules are very complex, they are still made of combinations of simple elements; to be specific: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. Even the genes, those sub-microscopic specks of nucleotides that are deified by Dawkins and modern biology, are merely a type of nucleic acid, with a somewhat different grouping of elemental atoms. Although these molecules are organized in living beings into incredibly complex systems and in living beings they conduct myriad sophisticated and precise processes, they are merely the passive conductors of these processes. Take away the living being and the body becomes just that, a body, with no biological processes, no desires, and certainly, no interest in survival. So it is certainly not the body that wants to survive. In fact, when our survival attempts fail and we die, it is not our body that disappears. If we had enough ice or any other way to preserve it, our body could last for centuries after death.


So who is it that is trying to survive? It's an interesting question, isn't it? This idea of survival of the fittest has been used to try to eliminate God or spiritual beings, or intelligence, from the whole equation of creation. Yet right in the center of this central tenet of evolution, in the center of the center, is this huge gaping hole that cannot be filled with matter. You see, when evolutionists glibly say that the oak tree, the amoeba, the platypus and the human being are trying to survive, they cannot possibly mean, if they thought about it (and usually they are too busy trying to advance their careers to stop and think about it) that it is the physical bodies of each of these creatures that is trying to survive. Although proteins are manufactured only by living beings, and are much more complicated structurally than any other molecules found in the inanimate world, they are still composed simply of elements and there is nothing in any element, or any molecule, that wants to survive, that cares what form it is in or what form it changes into, or that has any desires what so ever. And certainly that is also true of the salinated water, fats acids and trace elements that make up the remainder of the non- protein parts of our bodies.


The point is that if something is trying to survive there must be an IT, a something, that is trying to do that; and if that something is not your body then what is it? Well, then, it must be your brain that wants to survive. But the brain is, like any other organ of your body, a collection of proteins. It has no more will, no more desire, no more interest in anything than any other part of your body. Yes, the neurons of the brain (proteins) conduct countless electrical and chemical impulses that fire whenever we think, see, hear or remember, but that doesn't mean that the brain is thinking, seeing, hearing or remembering. Is that how you think, see, hear and remember, in electrical impulses? That does not sound like a recipe for a very exciting life. Those electrical and chemical patterns are codes that you translate into thoughts and sounds and sights, into the whole rich, beautiful and ugly, delicious and repulsive, fascinating and boring texture of your experience. Just like a speaker translates her experience into a code of words, we translate these electrical and chemical patterns, or codes, into our experience. Sense organs, translate light waves, sound waves, tastes and touches, into a pattern of electrical impulses in your brain. The organ that translates those impulses into experience is not a physical organ, at all. We call that organ 'you'.


Now I know that some of these ideas fly in the face of the materialist assumptions that we have all been indoctrinated in. Before I drop the final spiritual bomb, indulge me for a moment, and let me do something that will soften the blow. Close your eyes and watch your breath. Watch it from a place inside your nose, feeling the coolness of the inhalation and the warmth of the exhalation. Good. Now bring your awareness to your right foot. Just feel your foot. Okay, now tighten all the muscles of your right foot and then release and watch the foot relax. Okay, now do the same thing with your left hand. Tighten all the muscles, then release and watch your hand relax. So, that's it. Thank you for indulging me.


Now I have a question. When you were moving from inside your nose to your foot and then to your hand, what part of you was moving? Now I know we can have a long discussion about whether you were really moving to those different parts of your body or you were moving around the surface of your brain where you experience those different parts. But irrespective of whether you were traveling through your whole body, or just your brain, what part of you was traveling? Certainly it wasn't the brain. The brain was not traveling to different parts of the brain. When scientists study brain scans and they see different parts light up, it is not the brain that is moving to those different parts. The brain is stationary. You are moving to those parts, and that you that is moving is not a part of you, that IS you.


So, now, here is the spiritual bomb. The you that wants to survive, the you that wants anything, the you that is the seat of all your desires, the you that is not your thoughts, but the thinker of your thoughts, not your sights, but the seer of your sights, not your memories but the rememberer of your memories, that you is consciousness, and consciousness is not part of the physical universe.


Are you still there, or have you run off shrieking into the night? Atoms have no desires. Molecules have no desires. Things have no desires. But you are not a thing. You are not made of atoms or molecules. You are not even made of neutrinos or subatomic particles. You are context, not content. Whatever you say you are, you are not that. You are that which experiences that. Every thing changes, but you are not a thing. You are that which experiences things, which experiences change. And, as such, you are part of the immutable spiritual fabric of the entire universe.


And you don't know that. I know you don't know that because that is how this whole system is set up. Survival of the fittest depends on a delusion. It depends on us not knowing that. Oh, I know it when I think about it, but I don't experience my life that way. I, like you, am attached to my body, to my memories, to my relationships, to my experiences, and I don't want this whole system, this whole package that I call my life, to end. So I cling to this life and I protect myself from anything that threatens this life and I embrace anything that enhances this life. And so, I, just like everyone else, and every other being, struggle to survive, struggle to keep this particular mind/body experience going for as long as I can.


Now let's get back to Western materialist science and theories of evolution. Is survival of the fittest the mechanism that drives actual evolution, the reason we human beings are here on this planet today? Of course not. The fittest life form is unquestionably the microbe. There are quintillions of them for each human being on this planet. There are even extremophile microbes that can endure and even thrive in temperatures above the boiling point of water and below freezing. You would think that it would have taken "evolution" millions of years to develop such an amazing adaptation, but you would be wrong. Extremophile microbes are considered to be the oldest species on this planet and date back to the very time, four billion years ago, that conditions on this planet had stabilized enough to support any life at all. The greatest survival machines were also the first survival machines. If survival were the only purpose of evolution it would have been over as soon as it began.


Survival of the fittest is based on a delusion. The delusion is that we, that is all life forms, are not life, but the forms that life takes. It is our attachment to this form, to this body, and to the particular way of experiencing the world that we have through this body and the particular relationships that we have made while we have had this experience, that makes us cling to this particular form of life, and that makes us struggle and compete to survive. But if you espouse 'survival of the fittest' as such a key ingredient in our evolution, then at least think about it deeply, and realize that it makes absolutely no sense unless there is a spiritual being, a consciousness, at the center of every life form that enlivens it with the will and energy and intelligence to survive. To imply that this 'survival of the fittest' idea has somehow supplanted God, or eliminated the need for a non-material explanation of existence, is just silliness and it should be treated as such, no matter how many degrees the person has who is espousing such nonsense. He is basing his thinking on his observations of biological processes. Our thinking is based on an understanding of the being without whom these biological processes make no sense what so ever.



Your comments are most welcome.

10 Comments:

Blogger Rama Llama said...

A very interesting premise: the presence of some form of sentience is the motivator for replication. I can see some merit to that possibility.

However, to correct one of your basic assumptions. "survival of the fittest is the central tenet of the theory of evolution" is not quite acccurate. The ability to adapt to a changing environment is a better description. It is not necessarily the strongest who survive but more the adaptive who survive.

I still like your basic premise of a 'who' that drives evolution. And the origin of that 'who' is worth considering. However the survival of the fittest is not the best argument to advance that hypothesis.

April 11, 2008 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger Matt Chait said...

Thank you for your comment. The word 'fittest' could just as well mean the most adaptive as the strongest. As I said in the blog, survival of the fittest is based on a delusion. Ultimately, the body never survives and the being always survives.

April 11, 2008 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger Rama Llama said...

Well what was fit/adaptive in the environment 5 billion years ago would not be the fittest in todays environment. So I dont see it as a delusion, just not relevant. Your premise allows that both evolution and God as the source of 'who' to coexist. The 'who' can still drive the evolution process with God as the source of the 'being'.

April 11, 2008 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Aurelius Caulfield said...

Fantastic blog, Matt. I've read a little of Richard Dawkins work and I believe you've unearthed his greatest fear.
This brings to mind a perplexity I have long suffered over: the identity and functionality of "free will". From a strictly literal standpoint, the ability of consciousness to act on its own accord free of influence is completely implausible. The phrase itself doesn't really make any sense. Regardless of whether we're God's progeny or nothing more than an infinitely complex network of nucleotides and synapses, the source of every single human decision is a giant collaboration. What is motivation? What is choice? With factors like environmental influence, hormones, upbringing, genetics, memory, sensory input, and spontaneous impulse-- very little of which is under our direct control-- how can the will be free?
Yet, if I so desire, I can go smoke a cigarette right now. I can pick up a pen and drop it on the floor. I can scratch my ass crack. But the desire to do each of these has to come from somewhere. I smoke because everyone in my family smokes and despite promising I would never cave, the hormonal surges of my 17-year old mind wanted rebellion. Now it is merely a craving for nicotine. But I've also been able to quit for up to 6 or 7 months at a time. I drop the pen to prove that I exist, to prove that I can do anything at any given moment. I scratch my ass crack because it itches.
Where you ask "Who?", I ask "Why?".
Food for thought. Thanks for showing me your blog, I'll be reading further.

-Clark

April 19, 2008 at 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Matt, thank for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate that understanding the outcome of the mechanisms that drive evolutionary adaptations - which create the human brain and sense of self - is a difficult concept to grasp. And thus it may be tempting to look outside those mechanisms - to a divine creator if you will - to explain them. But there is no need. Really. Think about your argument for a moment. All extant replicating organisms on the planet have successfully faced the same challenge we have. And yet, for example, presumably you do not feel the need to assign a 'sense of self' to the thermophilic bacteria of which you write.

I recommend you read the 'Selfish Gene' by Dawkins - who explains it far more eloquently than I can. You seem an inquisitive and intelligent individual. You owe it to yourself to educate yourself about these matters more. good luck

April 26, 2008 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Matt Chait said...

Hey Anonymous!
Anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous! What are you doing anonymous? I must confess that I hesitated to publish your comment. After a cursory read of one post of my eighteen post blog you fire off your response. Do you realize that the entire blog, all 120 pages and growing, is devoted to undoing the nonsense and damage done by the 'eloquence' of Richard Dawkins? I'll publish your next reply but not before you read my post 'Selfish Genes and Replicators' which dissects and demolishes his 'Selfish Gene' arguments practically line for line.
I am not talking about a 'sense of self.' I am talking about the self that has a 'sense of self' or that doesn't have a sense of self. It doesn't matter. Anything that experiences anything, whether it's a thought, a desire, an attraction, anything at all, must have a milieu, a piece of consciousness, however limited, that experiences that. That non-physical milieu is a self. Living beings have it, non-living matter does not. Human made machines have a purpose but the purpose is not in the molecules of the machine. The purpose is in the conscious being that built the machine and the conscious beings that use that machine. Thermophilic bacteria do have a self, in fact it is the same self, the same context, that connects all life.
Relax, anonymous. Take several deep breaths and just watch them. Try to get the feeling, not as if you're breathing, but as if you're being breathed. After you've read 'Selfish Genes and Replicators' and have taken those deep breaths, write me back and include in your comment your explanation for who the 'you' was that was watching your breath. Good luck.

April 27, 2008 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger Nenad said...

Hi Matt.
I like very, very much all your articles. It seems to me as I write all that.
I have a question to ask myself?
Imagine we have a way to assemble a human body from all molecules needed to do that. What that creatures should be: a human being with a consciousness or just some kind of biological machine without spirituality?
Is it wrong after this ask when spirituality comes to a that body, if comes at all? Maybe if we try to do the creator's job couldn't be automatically connect "a" spirituality with it or particular complex of huge numbers of molecules that make a body have some hidden behavior that seems to us as a spirit. Sorry for this remark, but I am feeling a gap between your wonderful explanation of living body as a set of devices and conclusion that must be Creator to get him/her connection to the non physical word.
A small set of any kind of molecules, regardless of its complexity in the set, the content, could have very different and an unpredictable behavior than a set of big numbers of molecules in a complex construction.
I miss some explanation from physical entity and non physical world.

Thanks a lot for the most valuable writing in this mater.

Regards,
Nenad

August 9, 2008 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Matt Chait said...

Nenad,
I am not sure I understand your question, but you cannot assemble a living being. All the 'parts' of a living being grow, and they grow out of one central spiritual idea, or dream. When you talk about assembling anything you are talking about static parts. Also, there is no such thing as a biological machine, or even a biological process without a being that that process serves.

August 9, 2008 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Nenad said...

Matt,

I know that. I know you cannot assemble a human being. I know how it grows.
I sad IMAGINE that like Einstein has imagined thinking experiment. could we make an initial cell like embryonic one and let it to grows itself.I am trying to ask is connection a body to the non physical world (spirit space) already built in living cell somehow or that comes later in process of growing the body.
I understand genetic system and cod in genes.
We know just how replication works and how amino acids and proteins are produced by genes in chromosomes, but we don't know how other functionalities are programmed in genome of any living body.

I didn't mention stem cells and cloning process because I am wondering what should be happened IF all be made from scratch by us in physical word and when, if any, comes Creator in this IMAGINED work. But I will not talk about that. I am wondering about a jump in the explanation of living body regarding material word and non observable one. A lot of hidden stuff are there and without knowing them we cannot properly be sure how key activities are going on.

My English is not enough good that I could say what I exactly mean. Sorry for my not good writing. I'll appreciate your further detailed explanation regarding relation between the two spaces (physical and non observable words) and when the Creator comes in the play, if I can say that.

Regards with full respect to your great thinking,

August 10, 2008 at 7:01 AM  
Blogger Matt Chait said...

Nenad,
I think I get you now. Sorry.

Nowadays some of our thinking is distorted because we keep reading things in the news like, "Scientists invent new life forms!" This type of hyperbole may sell newspapers and provide good publicity for the Craig Venter Institute, but it is very far from the truth. No one is starting anything from scratch (from elements). What some scientists have done is to transfer some genes, and now whole strands of DNA, from one cell and put them into another. From the scientist's perspective this is very similair to the transplant of an organ, but the results can be more dramatic.

If something is growing, not accumulating matter like a crystal, but actually growing, then that thing, whatever it is, is alive and it is not really growing, but it is being grown. The force of the universe is acting through it and it has a ground of experience, of being. Now, is this little speck capable of contemplating the universe? Probably not. But it is still alive.

So, I am certain that what you are thinking about is absolutely impossible, but if we were to speculate about it: if it, whatever it was that you had accumulated, started growing, then it would be a good time to fall on your knees, because you would be witnessing a miracle and you could be sure that you and your invention were not alone in your laboratory.

August 10, 2008 at 1:12 PM  

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